I have a three-year-old male aggressive Doberman. We did obedience with him his whole life.
The problem started off as redirection. He got into a fight with his brother. When I tried breaking it up, he snapped at me. And I had no choice but throw him down and hold till he gave up. I made him stay there for 30 minutes after I let him go. Seemed to work. Till about five months later he was laying down.
I reached to grab something behind him and boom another bite no warning. And he kept going after me, so the same thing again, he was overpowered and held on the ground till he gave up. With my blood dripping all over.
So now what happened later. A drunk guy approached him, and bent over in front of my dog and acted like a fool. My dog started showing his teeth, and I went to stop him from getting the guy in the face. So instead he got my hand, and I needed stitches, another redirection.
Also whenever he does something, he knows he shouldn’t. If I come and tell him, no but he decides to ignore. I raise my voice he gets all tense and raises his tail walking away slowly looking like his a ready for a fight.
Now the odd part. I am the only person he listens to no matter what we do or where we go he will always follow me instead of any other family member. He is off leash 90% of the time and recall is 100% with me only. He will sit and stay on my command even if there are dogs and people all over. He will not touch his food unless given permission. I even forgot to tell him OK when I put his plate down. 20 minutes later I got out of the shower. He was still standing there drooling all over. I felt so bad. His obedience is amazing with me. I can call him to heel off leash for as long as I want . Working on constant eye contact.
But why is it that he still challenges me? And if there is any aggression he will take it out on me. And if I raise my voice he will go into a defensive state. And will attack with no warning if I as much as touch his collar. Even if he bumps into a tree when walking, he might think its something I did and growls at me for a moment. I never overcorrected for no reason. Other than when he went off, and I had no choice.
Val (Toronto, Canada)
That’s serious AND dangerous. Off the top of my head, there are a few possibilities. It would take some digging to narrow it down. It’s not impossible that it might be a combination of factors as well.
Part of what you are describing may be due to the way you think you are correcting him. “I never overcorrected for no reason.” Other than when he goes ballistic you don’t mention how you respond if he does something inappropriate.
When he does lose it, and you’re pinning him down, I would start looking at that as more a restraint safety measure rather than an efficient or clear correction. Those sort of moments aren’t always the best learning moments, and besides if you get into a knock down dragged out fights with a dog it’s a powerful signal that something is seriously wrong. Either with the dog or much more likely the relationship between the dog and owner and the training approach.
Some of what you describe is the sort of response I’ve often see from some high drive examples of working line breeds. Part of it may be due to breeding (genetics), and part may be due to the common training approach and mishandling of dogs in this category.
These sorts of dogs are more often than not are found in a working environment rather than companion dog homes for no other reason than they crash and burn without the handling, training and activity levels they are wired to require.
However, even in working environments, these characteristics rear their heads. Breeding a high-quality high-drive working level dog requires a lot of tweaking and sometimes that tweaking just goes too far. This sort of “climb the leash” when frustrated reactivity is relatively common in the Belgian Malinois but indeed isn’t unique to that breed. I’ve seen it in a lot of terriers as well. These dogs literally vibrate (shake) in anticipation when they anticipate there’s a job that needs doing and they are being kept from it.
So, check your Doberman’s bloodlines and find out what his predecessors were being used for day to day. Also, check with his siblings and the progeny from prior litters with the same mother and father. I would try to talk directly to the owners of the individual dogs rather than through the breeder as I haven’t found breeders very forthcoming. I wouldn’t only be laser focusing on learning of incidents of similar aggression. I would also be looking for anything indicating lack of stability, for example, anxiety. With the Doberman, I’d ask about problems with Acral Lic Granuloma on the forelegs or obsessive licking any other part of the body. If you see a pattern, you may have at least part of the reason behind your dog’s reactivity. It may be high-drive dogs in the wrong homes or dogs where the tweaking has gone too far.
Another possibility is tied to the traditional way high drive working line dogs are still often trained. They are often subjected to various versions and intensities of the ‘Might Is Right’ approach to dog training. It’s a yank and crank, alpha roll, I love you but I am Master, and you are Slave approach.
Trainers and handlers of these dogs aren’t necessarily bad people. I’ve met a few that need to be locked away but overall they just honestly still believe that any other approach to training would result in a completely out of control dog. They would be correct if that approach were the ‘All Positive/Purely Positive/Force-Free’ nonsense method made popular in recent years by celebrity dog trainers and pseudo-scientists. However, these dogs would do fine with a less autocratic and more balanced approach to relationship development and maintenance and the approach to their training.
This ‘Might Is Right’ approach is unfortunately still prevalent in many hunting dogs, police dogs and working dog sports. It’s changing but the method is as much of part of the culture as it is an approach to training and as a result, it’s difficult to change the mindset.
Part of the problem in bringing about change is that when the ‘Might Is Right’ approach is applied to working level well-bred dogs more often than not they bounce back in seconds. They often have extremely high thresholds for stress. As a result, they bounce back so quickly from these unnecessarily harsh physical corrections that it leaves their trainers and handlers with the impression that there’s nothing the matter with what they’re doing. If they get the results they wanted and they often do because pain is life’s number one motivator their belief in their methodology is further reinforced and the ‘Might Is Right’ approach lives on. Whereas try the same folly on your typical mediocrely bred companion level dog and you would quickly find they’d shut down if not need lifelong therapy.
Where it goes south is if the dog can’t figure out what they’re doing to trigger the ‘Might Is Right’ reaction in their handler. If they can’t, they can’t fix it, and that is mighty frustrating. Some dogs finally get to the point where at the slightest sign of trouble they go into ‘get you before you get me’ mode. It’s a form of caused by training learned helplessness, except they don’t shut down. They fight back. They then start looking for the slightest signs that the hammer may be about to fall and again preemptively fight back.
You may not think your reactions to misbehaviours has historically been over the top. However, one of the concepts in balanced training is treating dogs as individuals, and if you’re following a model rather than tailoring for your dog’s personality, it might be too much. I’ve found even aggressive Dobermans to be pretty sensitive when out of drive. You don’t have to be overly heavy-handed to be too heavy-handed for some dogs. It doesn’t have to be physical corrections either. Your tone and body language say a lot, and if the dog can’t connect the dots, stress levels can soar, and you can have an unexpected fight on your hands. You may just have a dog requiring a lot more finesse than another dog might.
Another possibility, but less likely based on the information you’ve provided is relationship based. A lot of people live with their dogs like they’re fantastic roommates. Which is confusing to some dogs when it comes time to take guidance for minor things let alone more significant issues.
People have three choices on how to develop a relationship with their dog. The ‘Might Is Right’ is authoritarian based and has a lot of areas where it can go wrong, but it does produce results. The ‘All Positive/Purely Positive/Force-Free’ approach is more dependent on getting dogs addicted to treats and convincing the dog that the handler is their dealer rather than a natural teacher/student, parent/child relationship. It can also produce results but more in keeping with patterned behaviours akin to tricks rather than jobs.
Then there’s balanced training which is based on the model selected by evolution and used by parents of every higher order species on the planet and is more thoroughly explained in my e-book The Beautiful Balance – Dog Training with Nature’s Template http://store.askthedogguy.com/the-beautiful-balance-dog-training-with-natures/. In short, it’s based on developing a teacher/student relationship that is almost always all positive but should the need arise, with a dash of ‘I’m not asking you, I’m telling you’. Leashes and collars are for keeping the dog from having physical advantages as opposed as a means to correct the dog. They can be used to get a distracted dog’s attention, but actual corrections are based on using tone and body language to convey, ‘you’re warm, and you’re cold’ in a manner tailored to the individual dog rather than a one size fits all.
With that in mind, your obedience may not be what you think it is. It may merely be conditioned responses developed because you’ve worked hard to improve them. He does them without thinking because he doesn’t believe there is any other option. He’s may not even think of alternatives. It’s when there are options out of the ordinary scope of day to day obedience that you determine how healthy the relationship and obedience is.
If this isn’t a hardwiring problem (genetics), I would be focussing on learning more about relationship building through a dialled down approach to obedience. I encourage my clients to use their leashes and collars for no more than getting a dog’s attention. They use their tone and body language to convey whether the dog is warm or cold. We then do what I refer to as the rule of three where we quickly repeat that portion of the lesson three consecutive times. This moves the dog from ‘what the heck’ to ‘Hmmmm’ to Oh!” It also allows the handler to tone down their approach. Much better than ‘Might Is Right’ or ‘All Positive/Purely Positive/Force-Free’ attitudes as it allows the dog to work with the handler as a guide in figuring out how to please.
Never forget, the dog is as far as I know the only species on the planet selectively bred to please human beings. You don’t have to aim for fear, or their tummies (stomach). If you are you’re missing the best part of the do
(Note this column continues extensively in the comments below.)